I have always thought of genteel Harrogate as the Eastbourne of the North, on account of its popularity with pensioners, low crime rate and the incomparable Betty's Tea Rooms. Betty may have to start adding green-leaf tea to the menu, however, because it seems the Japanese are moving in.

Bob O'Neil, mayor of Harrogate, has been courted by a delegation from Kyushu to set up a European centre for martial arts - and he is seriously considering it. "I've even been over there to discuss it with them," he explains, "and I was very impressed. I was able to set up all sorts of joint business ventures. Everybody seemed to be talking about Harrogate."

The venture, which Mr O'Neil says is 99 per cent likely to go ahead, will be named the "Centre for Excellence" and will be Europe's first permanent martial arts forum. "It is for all types and levels," says Mr O'Neil, adding that, at 49, he is quite interested in having a go himself.

What on earth was it that made the Japanese want to pursue aikido in Yorkshire? "Oh," replies Mr O'Neil airily, "because of the gardens, the hot springs, the friendly Yorkshire people - in fact, they tell me it reminds them of Japan."

Really? A bottle of sake to the person who can send me a photograph illustrating the resemblance.

David Lodge is clearly fond of the Groucho Club, Soho's haunt for media types and luvvies in London. It was here that he launched his new novel, Therapy, last week. And the intriguingly titled "Groucho's Fast Pan" turns up in the book. This turns out not to be something out of Delia Smith's National Lottery Cookbook, but a club mannerism, which I was honoured to have vigorously demonstrated by the author himself.

"This," explained Mr Lodge, "is what happens when you are sitting having dinner upstairs at the back and you want to check if anyone famous is also in the dining room. You roar uproariously at something your dinner companion has said (regardless of whether it is actually funny); throw your head back, holding your glass out, and roll your eyes slowly around the room under half-lowered lids." He then waved his wine glass and rolled his eyeballs, producing a competent imitation of a tipsy frog. "You shouldn't take it as an insult," he continued when upright again, "everybody here does it.''

I was relieved that in our ensuing five-minute conversation on modern literature he did not do any repeat fast-panning, though he did at one point take a long, slow look round the room. For this I forgave him. "My book is not autobiographical," he had been explaining, "because although the protagonist, like myself, suffers from depression, things start to happen to him that have not happened to me. For one, his wife leaves him."

Pause. Long, sober, anxious pan. "My wife," said Mr Lodge, "I hope, is here somewhere."

Another launch, another evening at Groucho's, but this time hosted by one far too well-mannered to practise the Fast Pan: Sir Rhodes Boyson MP, former education secretary. All concentration and charm, Sir Rhodes was promoting an educational tool for GCSE and A-level students: tapes of classic literature for those who find it easier to pick things up by ear than by reading. "I myself," he said, "was always an aural man. I remember reciting out loud the whole of Shakespeare's Henry IV, Part One and Henry V for my A-levels. But I only realised just how much I relied on my hearing when I became headmaster of a school in Highbury, north London. I could tell by their footsteps which of the staff or pupils was about to enter my office."

He chuckled. "I would seriously put them out by bellowing their surname before they'd even knocked."

I am glad to report a happy ending to the fiasco which began last weekend when the commercials director Tony Kaye (renowned for his BA ads) lowered a 20ft by 12ft photograph of punters at the Eve Klein exhibition on to the forecourt of the South Bank's Hayward Gallery, where the exhibition has been on display. Mr Kaye described the photograph as "a gift" but the Hayward's security guards were not so sure: they wanted rid of the unwelcome giant object. Thankfully, after a week's deliberation, the gallery has decided to let the picture stay - and has even given it a plaque.

"Well, since it was a picture of the exhibition - or, at least, a picture of people waiting for exhibition lecturers to arrive - we felt that it had a certain relevance," explains a spokeman, adding that Mr Kaye "must have spent at least £1,000 getting it blown up".

Mr Kaye is delighted. He is experimenting with two new artistic movements, which he has dubbed "exhibitionism" (making an exhibition out of someone else's exhibition) and "soap art" (the theory of one thing leading to another). In deference to both he will next week move the work to another artistic venue in London. Art-lovers should keep an eye on a small gallery with watery associations.

Breaking the mould of fragrant Tory wives is Anita Townsend, wife of Cyril, the Tory MP for Bexleyheath. Yesterday, Mrs Townsend was to be found hanging an exhibition of her paintings that starts tonight at the Marina Henderson Gallery in Chelsea. Prices range from £150 to £400. Not that she will pocket the proceeds: all the money is going to charity. And neither is this a new career direction in anticipation of her spouse's possible joblessness within a couple of years; Mrs Townsend was a serious artist before she was a Tory wife.

She is delighted to be resuming her career now that the children are away at school. "I was always very serious about it when I first met Cyril," she says. He, she laughs, does not have any artistic imagination at all - nor, it seems, much romantic imagination, judging by their first date in the Seventies. "He took me to see Jaws," she sighs nostalgically.

"Avoid complacency," was Tony Blair's wise caution after his sweeping victory in last week's elections. Which explains, no doubt, why the Labour Party is busy offering incentives to members who can persuade as many as three more people to join. Heroic enrollers win the right to lunch with Mr Blair. Or rather, to be strictly accurate, the right to enter the prize draw of heroic enrollers to have lunch with Mr Blair. One lunch, for one winner. Avoid complacency, Tony - and, I am pleased to see, profligacy.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper / Office Co-ordinator

£9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This role is based within a small family run ...

Recruitment Genius: Designer - Print & Digital

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Design and marketing agenc...

Recruitment Genius: Quantity Surveyor

£46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This property investment firm are lookin...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales / Telemarketing Executive - OTE £30k / £35k plus

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company specialises provid...

Day In a Page

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003